The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013) – A Review

Steve Carell Steve Buscemi The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi in
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Typically I would have had interest in a comedy that stars such an impressive talented cast. Steve Carell, Steve Busemi, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde with added supporting parts by James Gandolfini and Alan Arkin. Set in the extravagant world of magicians with the silly conflicts between the old and new. The cheesy versus the hip taking place across Las Vegas stages. It sounds like it could be a lot of fun.

It sounds it. But sometimes things don’t pan out the way the way you would think.

As I said I would have checked out this movie sooner, but the overall negative reaction it received upon its release made my expectations cool down and I ended up forgetting about it. It wasn’t until I stumbled onto it on cable one evening where I finally got to see it and could understand why it got such a cool reaction.

It starts out promisingly with longtime friends and Vegas magicians Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Buscemi) having a lucrative career at Balley’s Hotel despite continuing to perform an outdated magic show. They’re mildly popular, they attract an audience and are making money with Burt enjoying a ridiculously lavish lifestyle.

Their friendship is a bit of an illusion itself however with Burt and Anton consistently bickering and complaining about one another. Wonderstone is shallow, pompous and has no passion for his once beloved art of magic. He doesn’t flinch at disrespecting anyone who gets within his sights, including assistant Jane (Wilde) and simply goes through the motions of trying to wow his audience.

Carell, Buscemi and Carrey

Now on the rise is hardcore street magician Steve Grey (Carrey) who is threatening to knock the duo off their lofty pedestal. Balley’s owner (Gandolfini) forces the guys to finally update their act, which ends in a disaster and winds up severing their friendship.

Now forced on his own Burt gradually comes to the realization that he has issues to deal with both personal and professional. Luckily he finds a mentor in old famed retired magician Rance Holloway (Arkin) who in his own cantankerous way will set Burt straight.

Things come to a climactic end with a five-year performance contract at a new casino hanging in the balance. Will a new lifechanging perspective, a rediscovered love of magic and Anton back by his side again be enough for Burt to win against the outrageous stunts of Grey?

What’s somewhat odd about this movie is how incredibly paint-by-numbers the story becomes.

It unfolds in an extremely predictable fashion. The premise has potential to be a funny story with the actors getting plenty of laughs poking fun at the world of magic playing exaggerated, overblown characters. With these guys and their roles it doesn’t seem like that should be too hard. And in the beginning it looks like we could be in for a fun ride. Carell and Buscemi attempting a new ‘hot box’ endurance trick is a pretty good start.

Incredible Burt Wonderstone Steve Carell hot box trick
Carell in the ‘hot box’

But then things quickly settle into such a surprisingly cookie-cuter-ish, unexciting fashion. The movie dances back and forth between outrageousness and sincerity and neither hit their mark. The bouncing tone never really comes together and gels. As things go on the fun slowly begins to drain out from it and all I was left feeling at the end was, “that should have been a lot better”.

I don’t think it’s even a deathblow for the movie that the story structure is so formulaic. It could have been salvageable had the laughs been consistently funny and the scenes had some belly laugh payoffs, but they just don’t come frequent enough or are funny enough to make watching this comedy worth it.

There are a few mild chuckles here and there with the cast able to squeeze out a few laughs. Surprisingly I thought Gandolfini ended up being the most entertaining person when he flips out telling Wonderstone that he sucks. Everyone is adequate enough, I enjoyed seeing them and they look game to get their funny on, but for the bulk of the time I was waiting for Carell, Carrey, Buscemi, Arkin to really dazzle me and get my sides to hurt and it just never happens.

The movie doesn’t even seem to take full advantage of the whole magic world premise. There’s one point where we enter a bar for magicians where all the guys hang out. And there aren’t any laughs there! What you could imagine happening with a place packed with failed drunk magicians, the surreal atmosphere, the loony bar bets taking place, the silly jokes that could come out of it is more than what the movie does with the idea. It’s just wasted.

There’s no progression to the comedic antics either. Things don’t start to escalate to absurd levels and have some really far out, wacky illusions for these funny guys to perform and milk for comedy. Other than a few over-the-top extreme physical stunts by Carrey the magic stuff is pretty humdrum and not that exciting.

Olivia Wilde does look cute in this at least.

I don’t really have much more to say about this. Unlike Wonderstone who’s journey is to rediscover his passion for magic and get back to providing true entertainment to his audiences the film itself doesn’t result with as much of a success as he does. It was a disappointing blah experience.


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